I know what I sound like, thank you; 10 Terrible things Americans say to British ex-pats.Posted: October 28, 2013
In 2010 I entered the United States without all the visas required of me. This wasn’t premeditated act of illegal migration: I was just an idiot and forgot half of the temporary work visa I needed to satisfy the insane levels of bureaucracy one has to tear through to prove you aren’t a terrorist/cartel boss/Former member of the SS/Sex Trafficker/Mexican/etc. The consequence of this very stupid lack of papers was being taken to a side room where anyone possibly fitting into the above list of undesirables sat and waited whilst an annoyed looking border agent sifted through paperwork and called out names. Long story short: I left Newark Airport inside half an hour due to a combination of the relative unimportance of a student leaving some paperwork behind, and my constant over articulation of the words “Terribly” and “Awfully” do describe the level of mortification I felt at having inconvenienced the lovely man from Homeland Security.
Though this wasn’t the first time I’ve used the fact that I don’t use hard “R”s in my day-to-day speech manipulate Americans, (the first was getting served alcohol aged 20 by telling the bartender I’d been mugged for my passport), it was the first time I consciously used my powers of accent for my own ends. At the time this felt like a minor superpower as by virtue of opening my mouth people automatically assumed that what I was saying was important, clever, funny or all three at once. If you’re an English (specifically South East) this makes visiting America really fun as your relative attractiveness at least doubles – quadrupling if there are Hipsters nearby. However when you live here it’s somewhat of a different story. Now don’t get me wrong, I love living on the East coast of the United states; as a relatively healthy white person in my early 20s, this place is awesome. You can smoke in bars till 2am whilst drinking insanely cheap liquor chased with super cheap beer (the combination of which is a drink here).
The only thing that irks me is that around one in five people I come into contact with seem to think that my accent entitles them to enjoy me as a novelty. This 20% almost exclusively consists of complete strangers and friends of friends because people I actually like are clearly welcome to ask me any question about my life they can think of. The reason this constant interest in the fact that I was born on a different side of the Atlantic grinds on me so much I’ve decided to come up with a list in case you a) see or hear and English person in a public place b) want to know something that might interest you c) you want to make sure you don’t come off as an inane shithead.
1) “I love your accent.”
This is by far the most common which is why it’s the most irritating. On the surface this statement is incredibly benign, even polite, which it might be if I had anything to do with the way I say “aluminium.” Compliments are for things people have achieved: their hairstyle, their dress sense, how their apartment looks, a really cool drawing, anything really. You know how it’s weird to congratulate someone’s height? That’s why it’s weird to tell someone how much you love their accent. I’m not going to pretend that this is equivalent to someone saying this to someone from a South Asian or Middle Eastern country because the fetishism over my accent doesn’t’ come with the same level of Colonialist Orientalism that lead up to westerners deciding those accents where cool; it’s just fucking irritating. Common variants on this is “Everything you’re saying sounds so important” or “You just sound more intelligent than everyone else,” which is irritating because it means I’ve suddenly become an avatar through which someone is re-enforcing tired racist, classist and Imperialist stereotypes themselves by making me feel weird.
2) “I went to (Insert stupid town I’ve never heard of/region i have no interest in) last year/when I studied abroad”
Okay The UK is 96,060 square miles and is about as interesting as everywhere else in the world. It’s not that the UK is terrible, it’s just that I haven’t been to every part of it and have a desire to go to about a quarter of the whole country. I don’t care that you were temporally in Birmingham, I’ve never been to Birmingham, the closest I’ve been to Birmingham is Warwick Castle and that’s as far as I intend to go. I have nothing against Birmingham per say, I just have nothing for it either, and I don’t care about this one pub you went to and got to drink even though you were only nineteen. I don’t care that you stayed at a really nice hotel in the Cotswold and I very much don’t know every single bar and restaurant the country in the same way living in the Delaware Valley doesn’t qualify you to recommend me a night spot in Sharon.
3) “I know an English guy, I should Introduce you.”
The fact that I was raised to be polite to everyone for as long as humanly possible has prevented my mouth from answering they way my heart does which is “Shit really? There are more of us? I thought I was the only one left! Take me to them so we might breed and continue our noble race!” There are about 70 Million British people and we live in an English-speaking country, chances are you’ve met a British person before me, and the fact this other person and myself were born on the same set of islands will tell you precisely nothing about whether we will get along. There are millions of pricks in the U.K.; the collective personalities of the country of my birth was clearly not enough to keep me there. So why would you assume I’m desperate to hear some rando drop all the T’s out of “Water Bottle” or that I will go out of my way to meet a friend of an acquaintance who has already annoyed me by assuming my personality is determined by me nationality?
4) “So I’m really into Doctor Who”
This also applies to Misfits, Skins, Sherlock, Downton Abbey, really any British T.V. show made in Britain and now popular with Americans. The use of Doctor Who is useful because it’s both the most extreme and common example. The problem with this is that the previously mentioned TV shows are very popular with a small percentage of the American population who are really quite into them, whilst the same TV show In the UK is just a TV show; I’m almost certain the term Whovian didn’t exist until Americans started getting in on the action. I hate this because I sort of know stuff about Dr Who in the way most Americans sort of know about Sex in the City; I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, I’ve maybe watched a few episodes of a few seasons and I couldn’t pass a test about it. However, because most Whovians live in a world where to know stuff about The Doctor is to love the Doctor, I end up having conversations with people who not only assume all British people love Doctor Who, but also that we appreciate Americans who appreciate Doctor who. Stop asking me for approval; I think David Tennant was kind of annoying. Sorry, not sorry.
6) “You sound like that guy in that movie. Which one is that?”
This is an actual quote from an actual person who yelled this at me from across a bar. No, “Hello my name is rude-ignorant-fuckhead, nice too meet you. Did you know you remind me of someone,” no calling out to me to tell me this. The above statement was her opening line to me, interrupting my friend telling me something I actually give a shit about. After about 3 minutes of bothering me during a night out, it turned out the Actor I reminded them of was Gerard Butler in “P.S. I love you.” I don’t care how unfamiliar you are with the British Isles, I don’t sound like an Scottish dude pretending to be Irish, and if you think I do, you can’t hear.
7) “Something something something Royal Family something something.”
People fought and died so we could live in a country that didn’t have to give a shit or acknowledge the faded husk of a family that is the house of Saxe Coburg Gotha’s rule over my homeland. By asking me about them, you’re essentially pissing on Tom Paine’s Grave
8) Any statement that uses the term “Europe” like it’s a country and not a series of diverse states with a wide variety of cultural practices.
Okay, so I have nothing against Europe. In a way, I’m down with the probably necessary integration of certain governmental functions that the European Union is making happen. That being said: Europe is not a country, it’s a continent with over 40 nation-states and 200 hundred different languages and dialects almost all of which have nothing to do with the way I lived my life up until moving to the United States. This was something that pissed me off a lot during the 2012 Election when every single republican candidate kept saying that America was going to become like Europe if Obama got another term. I don’t know what this paranoid assertion might mean as European countries are very much different to each other in cultural practices, economic development, foodstuffs, language. Indeed, some are much more like America than others, some less so, some are similar in different ways. We’re all different and we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about each other, particularly not the British who try to forget the fact that it’s a small amount of brine between Dover and Calais.
9) Saying anything whilst attempting to imitate my accent.
If you’re an American and read that statement and think even a little bit that this doesn’t apply to you because your English accent is flawless: I hate you. I hate you firstly because it’s incredibly frustrating to have whatever I’m saying flow through a filter of patronizing enjoyment enter separate from the content of my sentences (See No 1 on this list). Secondly, I hate you because you are wrong: you cannot convincingly imitate an English person, almost no American can flawlessly pull of an English accent. Actors like Johnny Depp can because he’s a talented character actor with a lot of training while watching Monty Python reruns though a haze of Marijuana smoke simply isn’t equal to.
10) “What are you doing here?”
This is almost always the first or second thing strangers ask me and I usually get asked it around twice a week. If I was travelling or an exchange student I would be less annoyed, but I’m neither of these things , I’m a tax paying resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania trying to enjoy a drink with my friend, hang out at a party with my wife, or get through a shift at work, which are activities idiots continually interrupt by demanding my life story. Fuck off.
I would Like to make it clear that if you’re actually friends with a person originally from the British Isles, all these questions are probably fine as they know and like you. All except number nine, number nine is always a dick move. Also remember that we’re raised to be polite well past the point people deserve it so if you tell someone inflicting themselves on us with anything on this list, tell that person to shut the fuck up and we will love you forever.